10 Best Online PhDs in Counseling Programs in 2021

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Doctoral counseling programs develop individuals’ ability to consider the delicate and multifaceted factors of counseling practice. Counselors can carry a great deal of responsibility, as their work often involves fragile aspects of their clients’ lives. Such aspects include – but are not limited to – age, gender, race, and sexuality. Advanced study can, therefore, be vital in consideration of modern ethical and professional issues in the field.

There are many types of counselors: substance abuse counselors, school and career counselors, mental health counselors, marriage and family therapists, and others. But while there are multiple career paths to choose from, the field of counseling as a whole is growing. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs for substance abuse counselors, behavioral disorder counselors, and mental health counselors, who make up a large part of the profession, are projected to grow by about 25% through 2029. That is much higher than the national average for job growth in other fields.

The following 10 Best Online Ph.D.s in Counseling include various perspectives on and approaches to counseling. The list includes programs emphasizing professional, ethical, psychological, and educational factors in the field. Graduates of the program can move into roles in the academic or clinical areas of mental health counseling. Generally speaking, counselors advise people who suffer from various human problems. They may work as behavioral disorder counselors, substance abuse counselors, mental health counselors, or school or career counselors.

Accredited Online College Programs

10 Best Online PhDs in Counseling Programs for 2021

  1. Lehigh University
    Location

    Bethlehem, PA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Located in Bethlehem, PA, Lehigh offers a Ph.D. program in counseling psychology that is accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). Students take coursework in behavioral neuroscience, cognitive psychology, human development, and more. Students are highly involved in research and practicums and must complete a college teaching apprenticeship to graduate. There is also a dissertation requirement with supervision from a faculty mentor.

    • Graduation rate: 88%
    • Program length: 4-5 years
    • Credits: 72 credits (with master's degree); 102 credits (without master's degree)
    • Admissions requirements: Transcripts, GPA of 3.0, two letters of recommendation, personal statement (GRE scores waived for 2021)
    • Program Website 
  2. University of Maryland
    Location

    Princess Anne, MD

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    University of Maryland's Ph.D. in counseling psychology is accredited by the APA and prepares students for academic, research, and practice careers. It uses the scientist-practitioner model, which emphasizes a mix of research and practice. In addition to general psychology courses, students take counseling psychology seminars, perform research under faculty supervision, and experience applied counseling practice throughout their time in the program. Students work on their dissertation during their fifth year and undertake a full-time internship during the sixth year.

    • Graduation rate: 41%
    • Program length: 6 years
    • Credits: 72 credits
    • Admissions requirements: Transcripts, statement of purpose, three letters of recommendation, GRE scores, CV/resume, writing sample, any applicable publications or presentations
    • Program Website 
  3. Oregon State University
    Location

    Corvallis, OR

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    OSU's Ph.D. in counseling program is accredited by The Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) and focuses on preparing students to be leaders and advocates in the field. Possible career choices include advanced practitioner, clinical supervisor, and counselor education. The program is in hybrid form: in-person classes occur twice each quarter. Courses include advanced group counseling, university teaching, and research methods in education. A thesis and internship are also required.

    • Graduation rate: 62.5%
    • Program length: 3-5 years
    • Credits: 150 credits (including master's transfer credits)
    • Admissions requirements: Master's degree in counseling or a closely related field with a GPA of 3.0, three letters of recommendation, writing sample
    • Program Website 
  4. University of West Georgia
    Location

    Carrollton, GA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    UWG's CACREP-accredited program in professional counseling and supervision leads to an Ed.D. degree, rather than a Ph.D. The program includes mandatory multi-day orientation sessions each summer at the Carrollton, Georgia, campus. Other courses are taught online asynchronously. Courses include work in research writing, program evaluation, and advocacy for marginalized populations. An internship and practicum are required, as is a dissertation. 

    • Graduation rate: 69%
    • Program length: 2-3 years (students without an Ed.S. will take a year longer)
    • Credits: 39 credits (accelerated track for those with an Ed.S. in counseling) or 60 credits (for those without an Ed.S. degree)
    • Admissions requirements: Transcripts, licensing (or be license-eligible), 3.5 GPA, GRE scores (minimum 151 verbal, 142 quantitative, 3.5 writing), master’s in counseling or related field, three years of counseling experience, personal essay, three recommendation letters, CV
    • Program Website 
  5. University of Iowa
    Location

    Iowa City, IA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Accredited by the APA, the University of Iowa's Ph.D. program in counseling psychology emphasizes the training of counselors and psychologists as informed by community-engaged practice coupled with advanced scholarship. Students complete coursework in research, psychology, counseling psychology core competencies, and electives such as correlation and regression, design of experiments, and research writing. Students spend one year working at an internship. They also complete a comprehensive oral and written exam and write a dissertation.

    • Graduation rate: 72%
    • Program length: 6 years
    • Credits: 103 credits
    • Admissions requirements: Bachelor's degree, 3.0 GPA (3.5 GPA if the applicant has a graduate degree), transcripts, GRE scores (waived for 2021), personal statement, CV/resume, three letters of recommendation
    • Program Website 
  6. University of the Cumberlands
    Location

    Williamsburg, KY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Located in Williamsburg, KY, the University of the Cumberlands offers an online Ph.D. in counselor education and supervision. The degree is geared toward counseling professionals who want to take their careers a step further by teaching at the higher education level or serving in a leadership position.You will take courses in areas such as research design and inferential statistics so that you are able to contribute original research to the profession. The program is accredited by CACREP and is fully online.

    • Graduation rate: 40%
    • Program length: 3 years
    • Credits: 66 credits
    • Admissions requirements: Master's degree from a CACREP-accredited program, professional clinical license or certification, GPA of 3.5 for graduate work, NCE or NCMHCE test scores, writing sample, two letters of recommendation, resume
    • Program Website 
  7. Liberty University
    Location

    Lynchburg, VA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Liberty University's CACREP-accredited Ph.D. in counselor education and supervision allows you to become an educator at the university level or gain new skills to accept a supervisory position and mentor other counselors. The program provides advanced training in counseling techniques, counselor education and supervision, research and scholarship, and leadership and advocacy. The Virginia-based institution's generous military discount offers classes in this program to veterans for only $300 per credit hour. 

    • Graduation rate: 54%
    • Program length: 4 years
    • Credits: 60 credits
    • Admissions requirements: Master's degree in counseling or a related field from an accredited institution, 3.25 GPA for graduate work, transcripts, two recommendations, letter of intent, CV, Ph.D. graduate status record
    • Program Website 
  8. Regent University
    Location

    Virginia Beach, VA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Regent University, an institution in Virginia Beach, VA, offers a Ph.D. program in counseling and psychological studies. The program focuses on a common core in research, statistics, psychometrics and Christian leadership. Elective courses allow you to specialize in a particular area of interest, such as addictions counseling, life coaching, or pastoral counseling. A research concentration is also available for those interested in research, grant writing, and policy analysis. 

    • Graduation rate: 61%
    • Program length: 3 years
    • Credits: 51
    • Admissions requirements: Master's degree in a mental health field, 3.5 GPA in graduate studies, one year of experience in a mental health field, CV/resume, transcripts, graduate academic paper
    • Program Website 
  9. Texas Woman's University
    Location

    Denton, TX

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    TWU's APA-accredited counseling psychology Ph.D. program is the only program in the U.S. with an explicitly feminist orientation. The program values social justice, using the practitioner-scientist model to prepare students for leadership roles in a range of mental health settings and to become advocates for change. In addition to core courses in subjects like social psychology, students take advanced electives such as the psychology of human sexuality. There is supervised fieldwork, a practicum, and a dissertation required.

    • Graduation rate: 48%
    • Program length: 3 years
    • Credits: 105 credits
    • Admissions requirements: Bachelor's degree, master's degree preferred, at least 18 semester hours in psychology, 3.5 GPA for psychology courses, CV, personal essay
    • Program Website 
  10. Fordham University
    Location

    Bronx, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Located in the Bronx, NY, Fordham's APA-accredited Ph.D. in counseling psychology has a 100% pass rate for the EPPP psychology licensing exam. Students are prepared for both research and counseling practice, and the program emphasizes multicultural counseling, ethics, and social justice advocacy. There are multiple opportunities for student-led research with faculty feedback, as well as a full year of field experience and two years of doctoral practicum experience. 

    • Graduation rate: 83%
    • Program length: 6-7 years
    • Credits: 72 credits
    • Admissions requirements: bachelor's degree, 3.0 undergraduate GPA, 3.5 graduate GPA, personal statement, CV/resume, transcripts, two letters of recommendation, GRE scores (optional for 2021)
    • Program Website 

  • Our Methodology, Explained


    Grad School Hub compiles rankings based on public data released from educational, commercial, and government databases. Sources such as the National Center for Education Statistics and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics play a significant role in how we source our educational data. After collecting insight for each institution, we organize information into five weighted categories.































    Metric Data Used Percentage
    Academic Quality Full-time faculty percentage, student-to-faculty ratio, student retention and graduation rates 20%
    Affordability Tuition rates, median student debt, and financial aid 40%
    Reputation Admission and enrollment rates 15%
    Program Offerings Number of program options 15%
    Online Enrollment Score Portion of learners taking at least one online course 10%

    A more comprehensive evaluation of how each category is determined and scored is accessible on our Ranking Methodology page.

Answering Your Questions About Ph.D. Counseling Programs

  • What can I do with a Ph.D. in counseling?

    With a Ph.D. in counseling, you can pursue jobs in public or private practice as a licensed counselor. You may also find opportunities as a tenure-track professor in a higher education setting. If research is your focus, you may find opportunities for employment in higher education or a non-profit organization as a researcher or writer. Areas of specialty include substance abuse counseling, school counseling, and marriage and family counseling.

  • How long does it take to get a Ph.D. in counseling?

    How long it takes to get a Ph.D. varies depending on the school, the program you enroll in, and many other factors. Most doctoral programs require you to earn a master’s degree in counseling on your way to earning a doctorate, though some schools will offer programs that allow you to earn both types of graduate degrees simultaneously. With full-time enrollment and a master’s degree, you may be able to complete a Ph.D. in counseling in about three years.

  • Is a Ph.D. better than PsyD?

    Although the Ph.D. is more common, both types of degrees have benefits. If you would like to teach at the university level or perform research, a Ph.D. degree will give you the foundational skills you need to do so. A Psy.D. degree focuses on preparing practitioners, who will work with individuals and groups on their needs. Both degrees equip you to become a clinical psychology counselor.

  • How much does a counselor with a P.h.D make?

    According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average median wage for counselors with Ph.Ds in psychology and/or counseling was about $82,180 per year as of 2020. Those who work in government positions tend to be the most highly paid, with a median wage of about $100,360 as of 2020, followed by those employed in hospital settings, who earned an average wage of about $90,640 per year in 2020.

CACREP Accredited Programs for a Ph.D. in Counseling 

Recognition by an accrediting agency is a vital component for a Ph.D. counseling online program. Employers look for accreditation when hiring, and only accredited programs are eligible for some kinds of financial aid. 

When it comes to Ph.D. in counseling programs, there are two national accreditors: the American Psychological Association (APA) and The Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Program (CACREP). Accreditation by one or the other ensures that you are entering a program with high standards, accomplished faculty, and a curriculum that will prepare you to be a professional in the field of counseling.

Admissions Requirements 

The admissions requirements vary vastly by program and school, so it’s important to check with the programs you’re interested in to find out what requirements you’ll need to meet.

That said, all online Ph.Ds in counseling require you to have at least a bachelor’s degree to be admitted into the program, and your undergraduate degree will preferably be in psychology or a related field. Many Ph.D. programs require a master’s degree as well. If you do not have a master’s, you might be able to earn it on the way to getting your Ph.D. as part of a program that offers a dual-degree track. 

You will need to submit transcripts from the colleges you have attended, and may also need to meet a minimum GPA requirement as well. You may also need to write a personal statement for admission, and may also need to provide letters of recommendation. You may also need to take the GRE exam and submit your results for admission, but some schools have waived the requirement for the GRE in light of the pandemic.

Certifications and Licenses 

Certifications and licenses for counselors are determined at the state level, so you will need to check with your state licensing board to see what is needed. In New York, for example, you need to be licensed to call yourself a mental health counselor. 

Some state licensing requires you to have spent a certain number of hours working on an internship or practicum, and there may be fees involved with licensure as well. A good resource to consult is the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB), which publishes a handbook of licensure and certification requirements for those in the U.S. and Canada. 

Top 10 Best Online Ph.D.’s in Counseling for 2021

Rank School Location
1 Lehigh University Bethlehem, PA
2 University of Maryland Princess Anne, MD
3 Oregon State University Corvallis, OR
4 University of West Georgia Carrollton, GA
5 University of Iowa Iowa City, IA
6 University of the Cumberlands Williamsburg, KY
7 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA
8 Regent University Virginia Beach, VA
9 Texas Woman's University Denton, TX
10 Fordham University Bronx, NY

Mary Van Keuren picture

Mary Van Keuren

CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Mary Van Keuren is a contributing writer who covers higher education, online graduate programs, college planning, and more for Grad School Hub. Her writing has also appeared in MSN, Bankrate, and NextAdvisor.com.

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Angelica Leicht

Angelica Leicht is an editor for Grad School Hub. A proud University of Houston alum (go Cougs!), she previously served as an education reporter at Kearney Hub, and an editor at the Dallas Observer and Houston Press. Her writing has appeared in Affordable Colleges Online, Bankrate, The Simple Dollar, and elsewhere.

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